Alaska: About 285 Same-Sex Couples Wed in State in Past Year

by Becky Bohrer
Wednesday Oct 14, 2015

About 285 same-sex couples have married in Alaska in the year since a federal judge struck down the state's ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional, according to the state health department.

Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the decision striking down a 1998 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. Except for a brief period last October, during which the state unsuccessfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, couples have been able to apply for marriage licenses since.

In June this year, following litigation across the country, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples nationwide have the right to marry.

Since Oct. 12, 2014, 5,589 total marriages have been registered in Alaska, including 284 same-sex marriages, the department said Monday in response to queries from The Associated Press. Registered marriages refer to couples who have married and turned in completed marriage licenses.

Matthew Hamby, a plaintiff in the Alaska case, called it gratifying "to have played a small role in standing up and saying, We want to be treated equally, just like our straight counterparts." Hamby and his husband, Christopher Shelden, were among five couples who sued last year, challenging the constitutionality of Alaska's ban on same-sex marriage. Four of the five couples, including Hamby and Shelden, had been married outside the state. The fifth couple was unmarried at the time.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess, in striking down the ban, said refusing the rights and responsibilities afforded by legal marriage "sends the public a government-sponsored message that same-sex couples and their familial relationships do not warrant the status, benefits, and dignity given to couples of the opposite sex." He found the gay-marriage ban violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

When the lawsuit was filed, in May 2014, it was unclear how long it would take for the issue to be sorted out nationally, said Allison Mendel, an attorney for the couples. It was important to not wait for a decision to "trickle down" to Alaska, she said, "because it would have taken until this past summer to trickle down if we hadn't done something."

Caitlin Shortell, another attorney for the couples, called it "the honor of my life" to have helped bring the case. She said she remains committed to issues of equality, including working to ensure that people are not discriminated against based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which she sees as a continued fight on the state level.

Hamby said that in the past year, "mundane tasks," such as filing a house deed, have gotten a bit easier.

"And I think just chatting with other people here and in different places, it just seems like there's less of a distinction between same-gender marriage and straight marriage. People just refer to it as marriage, refer to their significant others that they're married to as their spouses," Hamby said.

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